According to the State of the Global Air 2020 report, ambient air pollution was answerable for around 5,000 premature deaths in Kenya in 2019 alone. It is the fourth most vital risk factor in driving death and disability combined in Kenya. Indeed, the 2017 national economic survey estimated that 19.9 million Kenyans suffer from respiratory ailments which are exacerbated by poor air quality.

Kenya’s national environmental management agency imposed regulations in 2014 for national ambient air quality standards. These set out the utmost permissible concentrations of various widespread pollutants for residential and industrial areas. The regulations also laid out steps to be taken for “prevention, control and abatement” of pollution in recognition of the toll it takes on health.

So far, nevertheless, the enforcement of those regulations has been minimal attributable to a scarcity of top quality air quality monitoring data, to match with the standards. Measurements of pollution from regulatory government-operated monitors, the world over are regarded as the gold standard by the scientific community. This is because such instruments produce top quality estimates of air quality concentrations to accurately discover if the standards are being met.

Such measurements are used extensively to judge the health consequences of pollution on health, trends in air pollution around the globe, major sources, and the impact of policies on air quality. These efforts have been crucial in the event of effective air pollution mitigation plans.

In Kenya, there isn’t any publicly available, official air quality monitoring data. But there have been 33 air pollution studies that report concentrations of widespread pollutants in Kenya because the early Nineteen Eighties. The majority of those studies were carried out in Nairobi. Many are limited, in space, time and instrumentation.

And yet, taken as an entire, they supply consistent and essential insights about pollution in Nairobi. My evaluation of this cumulative evidence reveals that particulate matter in some parts of Nairobi, comparable to the Industrial Area district, where factories exist side by side with crowded poor settlements, have been unsafe way back to the early Nineteen Eighties.

The review also points to gaps in our understanding of air pollution in Kenya. This could encourage further targeted research to fill within the gaps.

High pollution levels

Emissions from industrial sources have been found to be essential pollution sources. Multiple studies have demonstrated that air pollution levels in poor neighbourhoods exhibit nice particulate levels of several 100 μg/m3, an order of magnitude higher than current standards. These neighbourhoods include Korogocho to Nairobi’s north, Viwanda within the east, and Kibera to the south.

All studies exhibit that vehicular emissions are a vital pollution source in Nairobi. Black carbon produced from the unfinished combustion of fuel, typically produced from older vehicles, forms a big fraction of particulate matter in Nairobi, with levels among the many highest on this planet.

Other research has found that the fuel economy of vehicles in Nairobi is 2-3 times worse than in countries like Japan, India and China from which these vehicles are inclined to be imported. Studies also found much higher levels of lead and manganese (additives to petroleum fuels) in Nairobi than in European countries within the late Nineteen Nineties and early 2000s. Less work has been carried out to judge levels after 2006, when leaded gasoline was phased out.

These findings present evidence for policymakers to urgently implement the ban of importing vehicles above a certain age. They suggest the necessity to improve the infrastructure to enable non-motorised transport in Nairobi to serve the vast majority of the population that doesn’t own a automotive. They speak to the necessity to incorporate air pollution concerns into the environmental impact assessment of transport related projects, comparable to the constructing of recent highways in town.

The review of the literature also provides evidence that sources of pollution in Nairobi’s Industrial Area should be mitigated. The national environment management authority requires industrial facilities to contract designated laboratories with the obligatory equipment to report smokestack emissions. Provisions ought to be made for continuous monitoring in keeping with the 2014 regulations. As a primary step, these emissions data ought to be made public for key polluters to be identified in order that motion will be taken.

The review also points to gaps in our understanding of air pollution in Kenya that might encourage further targeted research to fill within the gaps. For example, few studies report the concentrations gaseous pollutants. These include volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide and surface ozone, that are prone to be high in the economic area. In addition, most past research conducted to date has focused on Nairobi. Little work has been done to characterise air quality in other cities and towns, including the busy port of Mombasa.

More work can also be needed to trace the impacts of various policies and transport interventions on pollution in Nairobi. There is an urgent need to establish a real-time continuous air quality monitoring system to capture such information. This review, nevertheless, suggests that there are particular policy interventions that may and should be made based on our current understanding of air pollution patterns in Kenya.

This review also reveals larger gaps within the infrastructure of air pollution governance in Kenya. Specifically, the review finds that many studies have been conducted by researchers on the Kenya Meteorological Department using official air quality monitors. Some of those studies show that air pollution levels in Nairobi violate the present standards. However, the info from a lot of these studies aren’t publicly available. The department currently charges for this data. There is a necessity for a push to make this data more transparent for science and policy purposes.

Small steps forward

Kenyan researchers have teamed up with policymakers to form the Kenya Air Quality Network to develop evidence-based air pollution management plans. Through these efforts, Nairobi county has turn out to be the primary to put out an air quality motion plan. Such policy efforts should be supported.

It’s also essential to focus on the initiatives underway within the Kenyan citizen science space. For example, Code for Africa has teamed up with journalists, providing them with low-cost air quality monitors in order that they may track and monitor specific factories that residents have long complained about.

Such work has been crucial in raising awareness of air pollution amongst the general public. These studies highlight the worth of strategic partnerships between scientists and advocates to attain common goals. These efforts can and will encourage future research design and questions on air pollution science in Kenya, and should be taken seriously.

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